Let the Bells Ring
Aedan had never seen Castle Cousland decked so vibrantly before. Seemingly every inch of the old fortress was dressed in streams of brightly coloured bunting and flags. Rivers of white and gold cloth crisscrossed high above the cobbled streets and passageways of the castle in a gorgeously complicated patchwork. Servants hurried back and forth carrying dresses, flowers, fruits and other precious cargos as the whole castle engaged in chaotic preparations.
Even the guard retinue had been drawn into the mayhem, their man power being utilised to rearrange tables and chairs about to make the most of the great hall's substantial space. Highever's finest had their armours polished to a uniform shine and had been drilled extensively in the unique routines and manoeuvres of this, most special of days.
It was safe to say that a wedding was in the works.
"Maker, it almost looks like a battlefield from up here." Aedan mused as he peered out of the window down at the chaos. He could just about imagine the rushing servants as soldiers who'd broken their battle lines and were either in the process of routing or being routed.
"You should feel right at home then." Fergus quipped from behind him.
The Prince-Consort chuckled as he turned to face his brother. The brothers Cousland were in the master bedroom of the castle. The older brother was being dressed in his very best military regalia. A stone faced manservant was seeing to the fit of the Teyrn's dress tunic from behind while Fergus looked more and more likely to fidget.
"Relax Fergus." Aedan smiled as he approached. "You don't want to tear a stitching, do you?"
Fergus scoffed. "Might help me breathe a little, bloody thing's too tight!" He eyed his brother dubiously. "I notice you're not having any issue."
For his part, Aedan was already dressed in smart regalia of his own: A deep red doublet, almost a brigandine, dressed with militaristically precise gold accoutrements. As one with several titles and roles, the Prince-Consort could have opted for any of several different dress styles. Though it was relatively unfamiliar to him, he'd chosen to attend his brother's wedding representing the dress of Ferelden's military command, rather than that of the Grey Wardens. He hadn't wanted to risk drawing attention away from the happy couple on their big day. He'd found that Grey Warden's often had that effect.
"Perks of being married to the Queen." Aedan smirked.
"It looks good on you." Aedan assured with a nod.
"It better." Fergus murmured disdainfully. "The damn thing's so bloody stiff!"
"It is a dress gambeson, my Lord." Provided the man servant in an uninterested tone. "The stiffness keeps the garment from creasing."
"It's more starch than cloth." Fergus complained. "What's it made out of then, iron? Dragonscale?"
"No, my Lord. It is made from a thick woollen fabric." The sarcasm appeared to be lost on the manservant.
"I see. Was the sheep eating the iron then?" Fergus quipped with a humoured glance at Aedan. "Or was it a dragon that was sheared by mistake?"
"I'm afraid I don't know, my Lord."
"No matter." Fergus rolled his eyes dismissively, the gesture unseen by the manservant behind him. "I'll interrogate the shepherd later."
"Very good, my Lord."
Once the uniform had been fitted to an acceptable standard to both Teyrn and manservant, Fergus bade the attendant to leave the two brothers alone.
"Nervous?" Aedan asked. He reached over to brush some lint from Fergus' shoulder.
"A little." Fergus sighed. "You'd think I'd be used to it, having done this all before."
"Well, it doesn't make it any less of a big occasion, does it? You're declaring your love in front of the Maker after all, it's not like you're just going to the regular Chantry service. It's an important ceremony. Besides, it may be your second time, but Matilda hasn't been through this all before, has she? Imagine how she'll be feeling right now."
A moment of staunched silence.
"Thanks for that, brother." Fergus quipped dryly. "That helps a lot."
Aedan chuckled. "Anytime."
Fergus eyed his brother with a slight glare. "I don't remember giving you such 'words of wisdom' on your big day?"
"We both know that Anora would have killed you if you'd have ruined it at all."
"True enough." Fergus sighed. "I suppose I should count myself lucky. Yours was a bigger do, wasn't it? Marrying the Queen and all."
Aedan smiled as he remembered. He'd seen complex, large scale military engagements orchestrated with less direction and control than Anora had had over their wedding. It had taken a small army just to setup all the decorations.
"Well, I think I'm about as heavily armoured as I'm ever likely to be." Fergus murmured, gazing down at the thick doublet and dress gambeson. "I'd wager I could go into battle against a dragon with this on. Maker, It'd be tougher than my actual armour."
Aedan chuckled. "Maybe so, but you do look good."
"I should hope so. I paid more than a pretty sovereign for this." Fergus sighed.
Finally ready, the brothers Cousland exited the master bedroom to head down to the chapel. Just as they closed door behind them, the door to Aedan's old room opened and out came a pair of figures. Aedan smiled wide to see his wife and daughter there, both clad in cheerfully coloured dresses.
"Father!" Eleanor enthused as she ran up to Aedan.
Aedan chuckled as he knelt to scoop his little Princess up into his arms. "Hello there, Pup. You all ready for Uncle Fergus' wedding?"
"Yep, I've got my dress on and everything." Eleanor seemed so proud of the fact.
"So I see." Aedan smiled. "And what a pretty dress it is too."
"Indeed, I know Matilda would only have the prettiest little girls for her bridesmaids." Fergus leaned in conspiratorially to give his niece a wink.
"But I'm not little anymore, Uncle Fergus!" The little Princess complained with a scowl. Not for the first time in his life, Aedan thought the expression looked so like her mother's. Yet Eleanor's version was far more cute than threatening.
"Is that so?" Fergus nodded sagely. "Well, only little girls can get a piggyback ride through the castle, courtesy of the lord himself!"
Without further ado, Fergus lifted Eleanor into his arms and began careering down the corridor. It wasn't a piggyback ride at all, but Eleanor didn't care by the sounds of her giggling.
"Careful, Fergus." Anora called after them as they carried on down the hallway. "Don't snag her dress on a door handle or anything."
"Have no fear, your Grace." Fergus laughed, though he slowed his steps a little from the admonishment. "We'll take the upmost care, won't we Princess?"
Eleanor merely giggled again before they disappeared around the corner.
Anora rolled her eyes before smiling at Aedan. "Tch, children."
"It is his wedding day. You can't blame him for being a little excited." Aedan smiled.
"True enough I suppose." Anora murmured before roving her keen gaze up and down her husband. She approached him smartly and began titivating his regalia.
"I look fine, Anora." Aedan chuckled but made no attempt to dissuade her. He knew better than that.
"You could look better." Anora murmured as she appraised the sash that ran diagonally across his body from shoulder to hip, straightening it to her particular liking. "I still think your warden dress would look better on you."
"It's Fergus' big day, not mine." Aedan repeated the same argument he'd used a dozen times before. "It's not right if I'm stood up there alongside him, shining like beacon."
"But the blue and silver works so well for you." Anora shook her head, disappointed. "I've always liked how you warden's dress, even your combat armour looks rather dashing."
"Don't you think your husband looks rather dapper now?" Aedan teased with a smirk, holding his arms out slightly, inviting appraisal.
Another rove of the eyes. "Hmm, you'll do." Anora winked before kissing him lightly on the lips.
"High praise indeed." Aedan breathed a chuckle.
"So, how do I look?" Anora asked with a hint of a smile.
Now how to answer that question? Anora was clad in a pale blue dress that ran in a smooth waterfall of silk from her clavicle down to her ankles. Though it was modest and simple, as Anora was often wont to wear, it was stylish and eye catching all the same. He always knew that his wife was beautiful of course, no matter what she wore – Hell, Anora could wear a grubby old potato sack and still exude pure sex appeal – yet it was always a pleasure to see her dressed in her finery. To crown the look, Anora wore her long golden hair in an elegant, swirling bun high at the back of her head, revealing her sweeping neck and striking collarbone. She'd never been a fan of lots of makeup, but what little she did wear highlighted her glowing sapphire eyes and full, pink lips deliciously.
In short, she looked stunning.
"Like a goddess." Aedan sighed dreamily.
Anora's cheeks flustered a little but she raised an amused eyebrow. "I'd be careful saying that out loud if I were you, Andraste herself may take umbrage."
"I dare her or the Maker to disagree." Aedan smirked.
Anora began to say – "Bold words from you, Grey Warden." – before his lips cut her off mid warden. She melted into the contact deliciously, and Aedan could have stood there forever just kissing her, were his brother's wedding not imminent.
Aedan broke off the contact all too reluctantly with a sigh. "Right, shall we go attend a wedding then?"
Anora's cheeks were defiantly blushing now. Aedan loved how he had that effect on her. "If we must." The Queen sighed.
The Queen and her Prince-Consort soon descended from the private quarters to the castle proper. The frenzy of activity had hardly diminished since Anora had first entered the castle, but it seemed to be reaching something of a zenith. Only the final flourishes and details were being seen to now. Servants were taking their places and the small army of wedding guests were gradually drifting through to the castle's chapel.
"My, it seems your brother is awfully popular. I don't think there were this many guests for my coronation." Anora chuckled in a whisper at Aedan's side.
"Castle Cousland is a smaller venue than the royal palace." Aedan offered. "And these streets are so narrow. It probably makes a few dozen seem like a hundred."
"True enough I suppose, though it is a beautiful place for a wedding." Anora smiled, gazing up at the ancient stonework freshly adorned with garlands and summer flowers flowing in waves strung up between the battlements.
"Oh? Didn't take you for a militarist?" Aedan teased.
Anora swatted her husband's arm softly. "You don't have to be a warlord to appreciate a fine castle, dear."
"My mistake." Aedan smirked.
As they entered the chapel, the guards stood crisply to attention and the assembled guests bowed and curtsied low for their queen. Fergus was already at the front row of the chapel's pews, fidgeting with the cuffs of his shirt a little anxiously. Anora did her best to supress the amused smile she felt rising for her brother in law's sake.
When the royal couple reached the front, Anora turned to Aedan. "Good luck." She whispered with a smile and a quick kiss to his cheek before walking away from him. She also gave Fergus a warm smile in reassurance as she passed him, before taking her seat.
Anora idly thought how strange it was to be attending a formal event such as this and not be either the host or the focal point of the whole thing. It was refreshing in its way. She idly noted just how many of the guests on the groom's side of the pews seemed to be wearing military regalia. Presumably old war friends of Fergus'.
She looked up at her husband and brother in law as they whispered to each other. Aedan clapped Fergus on the back and presumably passed on some final words of wisdom or of reassurance.
Though perhaps not, for Fergus threw his brother a scowl and shoved Aedan in the shoulder, much to the Prince-Consort's amusement.
Boys, Anora thought to herself with a roll of her eyes.
Then, the sound of general chatter and conversation was swallowed up by the playing of an organ. Dozens of shoes clacked off of the stonework in a general throng and all eyes turned to the great doors at the rear. Soon enough, Anora saw her first sight of the bride, drifting down the aisle in a beautiful white dress that flowed from her head and shoulders like a wave of starlight.
Anora smiled the widest when she caught sight of her daughter. She was helping to carry the train of the bride's dress along with another little girl the Queen didn't know. Eleanor looked to be taking great pride in her task, beaming wide at anyone who'd take notice.
Anora glanced back over towards Fergus, who was clearly struggling to hold in his emotion. With an affectionate shake of her head, Anora looked over to her husband. Aedan caught her eye, and he gestured his head to Fergus with a smile that could only have said: 'look at this hopeless wreck that is my brother'.
The Queen turned her gaze away to keep herself from chuckling and when the bride reached the front, everyone took their seats once more.
Eleanor appeared a bit reluctant to drop the bride's train and was almost on the verge of pouting. That is until she caught her mother's eye and quickly hastened to take her seat besides the Queen.
Anora smirked and lent in close to her daughter's ear. "You did great, sweetheart." She whispered with a smile.
The Princess beamed, even if her cheeks glowed a little bashfully.
Aedan came to sit on the Princesses' other side. He flashed Anora a quick grin before turning to the front once more.
The priestess began her sermon, the words echoing around the small Chantry with due reverence. Fergus and Matilda kept glancing at each and smiling warmly. She blushed when the Teyrn caught her staring and waggled his eyebrows at her. Anora hadn't spent much time with them both, but it seemed to be such a sweet connection they shared.
Soon enough, the priestess declared that the ceremony was complete, and that a new couple had been forged in the sight of the Maker. The newlyweds sealed their love and their contract with a kiss.
Then, the bells were ringing a triumphant symphony. Cheers and cries of celebration rang throughout the chapel, and all of Castle Cousland rejoiced.
The party swiftly moved from the Chantry to the great hall, where an abundance of wines and foods were laid out in wait for the newlyweds and their guests. It didn't take long for most to get stuck in to the festivities.
Anora however, couldn't help but find herself in a more contemplative mood. After all, while the nobility of Ferelden danced and drank and sang the night away, the world outside was seemingly growing more and more unstable by the minute.
After the troubling events in Kirkwall, the mages had taken it upon themselves to rebel. Starting with Orlais, the Circles' of Magi across Thedas had declared their independence from Chantry authority, and by extension, the Templars. Though fighting between mages and templars had flared up in Anora's realm as it had in all others, so far it had been confined to the countryside around Lake Calenhad mostly, yet there was always the possibility that the fighting would extend deeper into Ferelden.
Then if the mage revolt wasn't the only thing Anora had to be worried about, the Orlesians had chosen that same moment to indulge themselves in a civil war. Though that conflict didn't involve her kingdom, the Empire still bordered Ferelden of course and Anora's court was wary of the potential for the hostilities spilling over into her realm. For the time being at least, the reports Anora had received seemed to paint the Orlesian conflict as firmly self-contained, as Celene battled to regain all of her cities. If the reports Anora had received were accurate, it seemed that it was not just political rivals, but elves as well who had rebelled against the Empress' rule.
Though a part of Anora was delighted that Celene was facing such troubles, she also found herself in the uncomfortable position of silently rooting for the Empress. It was well known after all that the challenger for the Orlesian throne was one Grand Duke Gaspard de Chalons. The Grand Duke was perhaps the staunchest of militarists, and longed to see the Empire restored to its former glory and military might, boot on the necks of its neighbours as in the days of yore. Still, even if Gaspard were to seize the throne, the ongoing struggle to do so would invariably weaken Orlais and postpone any coming invasion, though not indefinitely of course.
No, the ideal scenario to Anora's mind was a long, protracted war that ultimately resulted in either a pyrrhic victory for Celene, or even the dissolution of the Empire itself. The latter was just wishful thinking on Anora's part, but given the scale of the challenges that Celene faced, it was not impossible. Either way, there was certainly the potential for the Orlesian civil war ending with Ferelden as the sole power of note in the South. Anora was determined to be ready to seize that chance if it came.
Anora was pulled from her musings and looked around at the voice to find Fergus addressing Eleanor instead.
"May this lowly Teyrn have the honour of a dance?" Fergus smiled as he bowed his head low before the Princess.
Eleanor chuckled. "Of course Uncle Fergus. Let's go!" She immediately jumped off her seat and ran to the dance floor, leaving her dance partner to follow in her wake with a chuckle.
Anora smiled with a shake of her head. While it was always endearing seeing anyone's children struggle to grasp courtly protocol, she did hope that Eleanor would grow out of it soon enough. She was the heir to the throne after all, and subject to more attention than most noble children as her future subjects looked to try and gauge what kind of queen she would be.
Anora swirled the wine in her glass contemplatively as she watched her daughter dance with her uncle about the hall. Fergus had to stoop a little to make it work, but Eleanor laughed happy enough.
"They make quite the pair, don't they?"
Anora glanced to the side to find her husband taking the seat Eleanor had only just vacated.
"He is a little too tall for her." Anora agreed with a smile. "But they seem happy enough."
Aedan agreed with a murmur before eyeing his wife for a moment. "Are you thinking about the mages?" He murmured in a hushed tone.
"Among other things." Anora sighed.
"Well don't, this is a wedding after all." Aedan smiled.
"You might be able to turn your mind off at will, but some of us don't have that luxury." Anora snapped. "You should know that by now, husband."
Aedan chuckled. "And you know as well as I do that the situation's under control. We've got the situation contained."
"For how long?" Anora asked. "Aedan, we could have all the mages in Thedas surrounded by our soldiers, but with the best will in the world, those soldiers don't know the first thing about fighting against magic."
Aedan sighed. He gave her a sly smile. "I don't think you need me as your general anymore, Love."
"If that's the case, then what do I need you for?" Anora took a sip of wine, only the hint of amusement in her eyes giving her away.
"I don't know. It could be for my good looks?" Aedan quipped.
Anora regarded him for a moment.
"You're not too bad." She admitted, begrudgingly.
Aedan smirked. "Or it could be for all the wonderful sex?"
Anora scowled at him even as her cheeks flushed. She couldn't help but glance about for eavesdroppers, even as she knew that the royal couple generally received a wide berth. Thankfully the only soul within earshot was Ser Cauthrien, who had surely developed an immunity to embarrassment from the Prince-Consort's words by this point.
"Most definitely not." The Queen tutted.
Aedan pouted, and for a moment Anora wondered for if she hadn't have gone too far. "You know, I'm starting to wonder what this marriage thing is all about."
Anora sighed. "Just a little more than sex and aesthetics, I should hope."
She eyed the newlyweds just a few metres away. Eleanor's dance with her uncle had finished, but she'd somehow managed to cajole the Teyrn and Teyrna to dance with her both. It made for an endearing if awkward display that resembled a children's song and dance routine more than anything.
"I'm sure Fergus and Matilda would agree with you there." Aedan smiled as he watched.
"They do make for a good match." Anora smiled as well.
"Do you think they'll make it? You know, have a long and happy life together?"
"I don't see why not." Anora eyed her husband carefully. "Why wouldn't they?"
"No reason." Aedan shook his head with a smile. "It's just- After what Fergus has been through, he deserves to find a bit of happiness."
Anora didn't need to ask to know what Aedan was referring to. She knew full well about Fergus' first marriage and the tragedy that befell both brothers.
Anora leaned in to lay a soft kiss to her husband's cheek. "They'll be just fine, you'll see."
"I know, you're right, you're right. Just can't help but worry is all."
"You're a good man Aedan. Fergus is lucky to have you for a brother."
"Flatterer." Aedan winked her way.
"And I know Eleanor is lucky to have your for a father too." Anora looked to their daughter with a smile. Then she aimed a smirk at her Prince-Consort. "And … I suppose you don't make a bad husband either."
"High praise indeed." Aedan chuckled.
"You know I'm only teasing." Anora shoved him gently with her shoulder. Then she looked to him with a sincere smile. "You're the best man a woman could ask for. I don't regret a single thing about our marriage, Aedan."
Aedan smiled wide. "Nor do I."
They sat there for a while in comfortable silence, just watching the dancers dance and listening to the singers sing. Anora kept finding her gaze drift back to the happy couple now and then. There was just something about them that was somehow captivating, it was in how they beheld each other in their eyes, in how gentle and earnest they were with each other.
"Well, actually there is one thing I regret about our marriage." Anora murmured with a small, sad smile.
"Oh?" Aedan's gaze grew concerned.
"Don't look so worried." Anora swatted at his arm lightly with a slight chuckle. "I only mean … well, it's a bit silly really given the circumstances."
"What is it?" Aedan pressed gently.
Anora sighed. "Well, we weren't in love then, were we? For our own wedding day I mean. We grew to love each other after." Her gaze travelled off to watch Fergus and Matilda dancing about the hall, both newlyweds gazing at each other in devotion. "It would have been nice, don't you think? To have said our vows in earnest, and not out of political necessity."
Aedan turned back out to his brother and sister-in-law with a contemplative look. "I never thought of that before, but I suppose you're right." Then, he smiled. "Still, I daresay it worked out well for us both, don't you think?"
Anora resisted the urge to roll her eyes at her love. "More than well, my dear husband, so don't worry about a thing." Then, she turned her smirking lips to his in a sweet kiss.
As the afternoon turned to evening and made waves towards nightfall, the wedding guests gradually filed out of the hall and towards their accommodations for the night. Those with the least stamina threw in the towel first, wishing the bride and groom their best wishes before retiring for the night. There were still many revellers about though, particularly Fergus' old war comrades.
Anora herself was barely feeling the fatigue from the day, so well versed she was in royal functions and gatherings that would stretch long into the early hours. Though she supposed she should be making sure that Eleanor at least had a decent night's sleep, though as the Queen searched for her Princess, she couldn't seem to find her anywhere.
Anora sighed as she got up from her seat to go searching. She wasn't overly worried. Castle Cousland wasn't the largest of fortresses in the realm, and there were plenty of guards on to make sure that the young Princess couldn't get up to too much trouble.
Still, the more she looked about the great hall, the less she found. In fact, she realised suddenly that Cauthrien was no longer at her side either. Presumably the lady knight had taken to watching over the princess, but Anora was starting to grow concerned.
Then, the Queen spotted her husband across the hall. He seemed to be smiling warmly at her. He must not have realised. She made her way to him quickly.
"Aedan, have you seen Eleanor?" Anora asked as she cast her gaze about worriedly. "I can't find her anywhere."
"She's just fine, Anora." Aedan raised a hand to assuage his wife and queen's fears immediately. He leaned forward conspiratorially. "I think she might be leaving a little surprise for us."
Anora blinked. She cocked her head with a growing smile. "Oh, what might that be?"
"Now, now, that would be spoiling the surprise." Aedan winked.
Anora sighed. She knew that she wouldn't be able to get anything out of her husband now until whatever plan their daughter had hatched had come to fruition. "Alright, I suppose we'd better go be surprised then." She murmured with a smile.
"That's the spirit." Aedan chuckled before holding his arm out expectantly for Anora.
The Queen took it and let herself be led out of the hall. The door closed out most of the noise of revelry behind them, leaving them in the cool and calm night air. It made a nice change to all the noise and heat of the hall.
Aedan led her down the street towards the chantry where the Chantry that Fergus and Matilda had declared their love before the Maker just a few hours earlier.
"The Chantry?" Anora murmured with a furrowed brow. "Please tell me our daughter hasn't done anything to offend the Maker?"
Aedan chuckled. "No, I think she's safe for the time being."
"I should hope so. What is she up to Aedan?"
"You'll see soon enough." Aedan murmured cryptically.
Anora sighed once more.
They reached the Chantey doors. Aedan went ahead first and eased them open a fraction, peering inside. Anora could see the soft candle light beaming out from within, but not much else. Aedan shut the door again before turning back to his wife.
"I think it's all ready." Aedan smiled.
"What is ready?" Anora scowled. She regarded him suspiciously. "What are you up to?"
Aedan merely winked at her before turning to the door once more and opening it fully.
Anora had to blink a little as her eyes adjusted to the light, but then they widened.
Inside, the Chantry was awash with candles. Where once was a mass of people, now there were candles occupying the pews, casting the chapel in a slow, dancing glow. Like a sea of stars, they wrapped around the room in a warm, comforting embrace.
There were just a few figures stood in the Chantry as well. Anora felt her shoulders relax with relief as she eyed Eleanor there, swinging her legs happily over the end of a pew. Ser Cauthrien was there of course, standing tall and proud as always. Then there someone Anora was less familiar with: The priestess who had wed Fergus and Matilda, she bowed her head respectfully to the Queen and Prince-Consort as they entered.
"Aedan?" Anora gazed about the Chantry hesitantly before turning back to her husband. "What is all this?"
Aedan seemed nervous all of a sudden. "Surprise." He held his arms out with a smile.
"Aedan, what is this?" Anora asked again.
"Well, I- I was thinking about what you said earlier, about how we never got the chance to say our wedding vows in earnest."
"Aedan …" Anora put her hand to mouth, already smiling uncontrollably wide.
"So … I thought that we should correct that." Aedan licked his lips and approached his queen, taking her free hand in his. "Queen Anora Mac Tir, would you do me the honour of marrying me?"
"Yes!" Anora answered immediately. "Of course I will but- We're already married, Aedan?"
"Yes, I know, but asking if you will 'renew your vows with me' doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?"
Anora chuckled. "No, I suppose not."
"Anyway, I'm glad you said yes." Aedan smirked slightly. "I spent an entire half an hour setting this all up."
Anora could only chuckle. She thought she'd never stop smiling again.
"Ser Cauthrien here is your Maid of Honour." Aedan indicated the Lady Knight with a broad smile.
"If you would have me, your Grace." Cauthrien bowed her head low.
"Of course I will, I couldn't think of anyone better." Anora smiled wide.
"That's good, it was the only way I could get her to leave your side for five minutes and wait here after all." Aedan chuckled.
Anora laughed softly.
Cauthrien threw the Prince-Consort a scowl, but it didn't last long.
"And our little Eleanor here, well, she insisted that she be my best man." Aedan smirked.
"Is that so?" Anora struggled to contain her chuckle as she looked to her daughter, still wearing her bridesmaid dress.
Eleanor nodded stoutly, in a way that suggested absolutely nothing could revoke that role from her now. "Yes, but I'm your bridesmaid too!"
Anora knelt down to pull her daughter into the tightest hug. "Well, if that's the case, then I know I'm in good hands, don't I sweetheart?"
Eleanor giggled happily as her mother kissed her cheek.
"And Sister Beatrice here agreed to hold the ceremony."
"It would be my greatest honour, your Grace." The Sister bowed her head low.
"Thank you, Sister." Anora bowed her head in thanks. "The honour is ours."
"So that's pretty much everything." Aedan clapped his hands together, excited and nervous all at once. "Are you ready?"
"You don't want to go get Fergus, or anyone else?" Anora eyed her husband carefully.
Aedan shook his head with a smile. "This is Fergus' day, not mine. But this night, well, this night is all for you."
Anora couldn't help but smile wide, even as she eyed him with a bit of a suspicious glare. "Have you been saving that line long?"
"Only about half an hour."
Aedan winked at her. "Shall we get started?"
"I suppose we'd better, after you've all gone to so much trouble." Anora smiled.
Aedan reached out and took her hand. He gave her a squeeze and they took their place up at the top of the aisle before the priestess. Ser Cauthrien and Eleanor stood at their side as they looked on.
Anora knew that she shouldn't, but she couldn't help but feel butterflies in her stomach. They'd already been married for years of course, and she knew her husband better than anyone, but still she felt that nervous anticipation.
The priestess began her sermon, repeating words that Anora had heard only a few hours before. Anora couldn't stop smiling.
"And now, the vows." The priestess smiled after a time. She looked to Aedan. "Your Lordship?"
Anora blinked as Aedan cleared his throat. Had he prepared bespoke vows as well?
"Anora …" Aedan began, taking both his Queen's hands in his and gazing into her eyes. Anora felt her heart flutter a little faster at the purest love and devotion she found there. "Marrying you was the best decision I ever made in my life. There hasn't been a single moment I've regretted our wedding day, even when we argue and fight. You are, and have always been, my beloved wife, my queen. You inspire me all the time, with your strength, your wits and your intelligence, all of it. Even your compassion – I know you don't think you have any, but you do. I see it all the time: in how you care for your people, how you care for our daughter, and how you love me.
"I love every little thing about you: how you furrow your brow when you're trying to figure something out, how you roll your eyes when somethings irritating you, even how you scowl at me. Just thinking about you brings a smile to my face. You're the only woman I could ever love, Anora. I love you more than I could ever say. I've always loved you. I don't know if I could ever say it enough. So, I swear that I will spend the rest of my life by your side, and I will do everything in my power to make sure that you spend the rest of your life safe, and loved."
Anora's throat was thick with emotion. "Oh Aedan …"
"Are you alright?" Aedan asked with a wary smile. He reached up to cup her cheek gently.
"Yes." Anora chuckled softly. "Absolutely. Never better."
The priestess turned to Anora next. "Your Grace?"
Anora nodded back with a smile. She looked to her husband. What words could she possibly say?
"Well, now I wish that I was given a little more time to prepare." Anora threw her husband a pointed look but smiled anyway. "Aedan, you … well, you've been my husband for several years now. You know me better than anyone ever has, and I think you know exactly how I feel. You've stuck by me all this time, even when I've been difficult, even when it probably wouldn't have much sense for you to do so. You are my rock, my greatest source of comfort and safety. You make me laugh. You make me smile. You make me feel happy and loved, but you are so much more than any of that.
"There was a time, before our marriage, when I seriously considered whether I could ever marry again, but you, you made it possible … and I can't imagine my life without you now." Anora removed one of her hands from his, reaching up to caress his cheek as she gazed deep into his eyes. "I love you, Aedan. I love you more and more each day. If we could do it all again, the only thing I'd change is to make sure I told you each and every day just how much you mean to me."
Aedan's smile was brighter than the sun. "Not at all bad to say you just made up those words on the spot." He winked.
Anora smacked him on the arm but still she chuckled.
"Then, by the power invested in me, under the sight of the Maker, I now reaffirm you as husband and wife." The priestess intoned.
Husband and wife moved as one, bringing their lips together in a sweet kiss.
"Urgh." Eleanor complained from her pew.
Anora and Aedan broke apart. Anora scowled softly at her daughter, but there was no real heat in it.
"You'll understand when you're older, Pup." Aedan promised with a smirk.
Silvery moonlight bathed the battlements of Highever Castle in a gentle light from on high, and a cool evening's air drifted about the place in a calm dance. From the heart of the castle below, warm lights and the hearty throng of music, chatter and laughter wafted up to linger in a pleasant background noise.
It was a perfect night for a stroll of the battlements for a Prince-Consort and his Queen. The Princess and the Queen's bodyguard were also in tow, Eleanor ran straight to the battlements to peer out over the countryside beyond.
"Careful, Pup." Aedan warned his daughter. "You don't want to go tumbling over the walls now."
"I won't." Eleanor grumbled, but leaned back a little at least so that more of her body weight was on the right side of the wall.
Even if she hadn't have heeded her father's words, Aedan knew he shouldn't be too concerned. Ser Cauthrien was close by to the young girl, watching over the Princess like a mother hawk.
"I think Cauthrien's more concerned for her than we are." Anora whispered to her husband with the hint of a chuckle.
"Well, Eleanor is her future queen. She probably doesn't want to risk losing her job because she let her future employer sprain an ankle."
Anora swatted at his arm in apparent disapproval, but Aedan knew that spark of amusement in his wife's eye.
Eleanor soon lost interest in looking out over the South facing wall, and quickly took off to the West side.
"Princess!" Cauthrien called after her as she hastened to match the young girl's stride.
"And there they go." Aedan chuckled.
"We should keep an eye on them." Anora murmured with a frown.
"Anora, you said it yourself, they'll be just fine. Even if Cauthrien wasn't with her, my brother's men wouldn't let so much as a fly get near her."
Anora sighed. "Alright, you're right."
"Let's just enjoy this moment of peace while we can. Soon enough we'll be back at the palace and the business of ruling once more." Aedan smiled as padded over to the thick stone wall, laying his hands on the battlements.
"True enough." Anora smiled as joined him at his side. "This is about all of a honeymoon we're likely to get, isn't it?"
Aedan turned a warm smile his wife's way. He wasn't sure if it was simply down to the moonlight or if it was just because of the love in his heart, but she'd never seemed so beautiful. Though as he thought on that, he realised that every time he looked at her, he felt exactly the same way.
"Well, I don't know about you, but this, right here, is all the honeymoon I need."
Anora's smile was radiant and she leaned in to press a soft kiss to his cheek. "You do say the sweetest things, dear."
"I try my best." Aedan gave her a quick wink before gazing up into the night's sky. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?"
"It is." Anora agreed with a deep breath, savouring the moment. She lowered her gaze from the horizon to watch her hand as it landed on his. "It's the kind of night that makes me feel glad for everything I have."
Aedan smiled. He leaned in to give his beloved Queen a deep and most sincere kiss. When they parted, they took to gazing off over their kingdom in a comfortable silence.
A sudden flash of light.
A crackle, a bang, a great shift in the cosmos. Paradoxically all around them, yet so very far off. The sound seemed so immense as if it were right in front of them, yet was so quiet as to be at the other end of all creation.
A light, green and sickly had bloomed into being far off on the horizon. It ebbed and pulsed in an erratic ripple, hanging in the skies above the far off mountains like … well, unlike anything Aedan had ever seen before.
"What …" Anora murmured in quiet surprise.
The sound of surprised murmurings and the metallic rustle of weapons followed the strange, alien noise as the guards posted along the walls readied themselves warily. Something about the phenomenon commanded them to be ready to fight. Aedan knew this because he felt the same urge himself.
"Aedan … what is that?" Anora asked so very quietly, her voice tight and strained somehow, her eyes transfixed on the strange alien light.
Aedan swallowed thickly. "I … I'm not sure."
The Prince-Consort tore his gaze from the anomaly to look about behind him. All the soldiers on the walls were stuck in the same moment of shock the same that Anora was in. Even the music and sounds of celebration that had been emanating from the halls below had dimmed.
Aedan and Anora snapped their gazes at the sound immediately, seeing Eleanor running up to them. Ser Cauthrien hot on the girls heels.
"Eleanor!" Anora snapped out of her reverie and quickly scooped her daughter into her arms. "Are you ok? You're not hurt, are you?"
"I'm ok." Eleanor murmured. Her eyes were transfixed on the light over the horizon. "What is that?"
Aedan stared back out towards the ominous green glow. "I don't know, sweetheart."
"Aedan …" Anora began but clearly had no words to continue whatever thought or question she'd started.
Aedan turned to the find the soldier nearest to him. "Well don't just stand there! Sound the alarm!" He bellowed.
"Ye- Yes, your Majesty!" The guardsman snapped out of his stupor and ran back along the walls, shouting orders to the others immediately, encouraging action.
Within a minute, bells rang out over Castle Cousland. Not the bells of celebration that the Chantry had rung only a few hours earlier, but bells of warning.
On instinct more than anything else, Aedan pulled his wife and daughter into his arms protectively. He could only hope that it gave them as much comfort as it did for him.